Monday, 11 January 2010

Council sounds positive note on Centros knockback

Far from being disappointed about the Secretary of State's recent decision on the Centros proposals, Lancaster City Council says it is more than pleased with the outcome: and despite the evident opposition from locals, it looks like they're going to push for a similar use of the Canal Corridor - but perhaps with less shops.

Responding to the inspector's views in more detail for the first time, the Council also sets out just why it stood, virtually alone, at the inquiry and gave support to the Centros plan for a huge shopping development, a multi storey car park and and other amenities on the Canal Corridor site. As we previously reported, developers chose not to speak at the inquiry on cost grounds - leaving the Council to speak for them, at local taxpayers expense.

The Council says it made a clear statement at the time of the public inquiry that it knew the developer's decision not to appear might jeopardise the outcome of the inquiry, but was taking the leading role to promote the implementation of its new Development Plan for the district, and to try to obtain a clear steer from the Secretary of State about the appropriateness of the scheme in principle.

Without such a steer the council may have needed to revise significant parts of the development plan.

“The inspector's report, and the Secretary of State's decision, has given ample support for the principle of the scheme," commented Coun Eileen Blamire, chair of the Council's Planning Policy Cabinet Liaison Group.

“It accepts that this is the only site capable of facilitating this form of retail and mixed use growth," Blamire argues, "and that, contrary to the view put forward by some objectors, it is sustainable and easily accessible for people inside and outside the city.”

Centros proposed solutions to accommodate additional traffic were accepted, the Council points out, as were the conclusions of the impact on air quality - two areas which locals still believe have not been properly addressed.

Looking at the prospective details of the scheme the Council points out there was agreement that the overall approach to layout and levels made sense, that a contemporary design with a good public frontage to Stonewell could work and the linkages to the existing centre are of critical importance.

The inspector also concluded that the controversial link bridge - an element that would be costly for the developers - was essential, but the Secretary of State wants to see detailed designs and more evidence to convince him that it is the right solution.

The Council also points out that the inspector's report doesn't hold out much hope for saving the Stonewell frontage as, it's argued, it would not be in the best interests of linking the existing centre to the site.

In its statement, the Council has accepted additional work needs to be done to address the Secretary of State's concerns about the amount of retail floor space - which might mean some reduction in scale. They haven't said at this stage what the shops removed from the project would be replaced with.

There's good news, perhaps, for campaigners who want to save buildings in the Canal Corridor development zone: the inspector and the Secretary of State have given clear guidance about the repair and viability test which must be proven before they can agreed to the loss of the unlisted buildings which would need to be removed to facilitate the scheme. This probably means Mitchells will have to hold off from their planned demolition of the old Brewery.

Acknowledging that evidence needed to be provided that the various buildings could not viably be retained, it was clear that the impact of retention of the ability to provide a viable new development would still be a major consideration.

“Having obtained the positive steer that the council needed, it has now agreed to take part in a new Government pilot scheme of mediation with the other principle parties," Coun Keith Budden, chair of the Planning and Highways Regulatory Committee, added, "to attempt to set an agreed benchmark on how to proceed.“

Expect plenty of heated debate in the months to come...

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